Are you sick of poker yet? Of course you're not. And neither is Jim McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street. The book was a best seller shortly after its release last year, came out in paperback this year and is now being made into a movie. It's the true tale of a novelist who gets sent to Las Vegas by Harper's to write about women in the 2000 World Series of Poker and the death of Ted Binion, the longtime host of the event who may or may not have been sexually tortured to death by his stripper girlfriend and her other boyfriend.
While on assignment he decides to take his story in another direction--risking his entire stack, er, advance on a chance to win the WSOP main event--which kicks off an improbable run all the way to the final table. It's the kind of heart-warmer that makes tens of millions of Americans and somewhere between one and seven writers for this publication all tingly inside. McManus is in Dallas this week, and he'll be signing books September 16 at The Lodge from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
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You know, poker! Whaddya know?
I've been thinking a lot about presidents who play poker. Lincoln played a little bit, but not as much as Sherman and Grant--well, Sherman wasn't a president--but the two generals who were most instrumental in winning the Civil War. There's a long and illustrious and amazing and weird connection between American presidential politics and warfare and poker.
I saw your WSOP episode on ESPN--but I was on the phone with the sound off--and I read about it on the Internet. What was up with you and that Hellix Powers guy?
His name was Ellix. He had been aggressively taunting T.J. Cloutier and David Chiu. The show, the way it was edited, made it seem like the only reason I said what I said was because he bet in the dark. But I said it not just because he bet in the dark once. He was betting in the dark half the time--talking like a maniac, walking around the table, walking away from the table and taunting great players. It was way over the top. He was being completely outrageous. I had a huge incentive not to get involved. I mean, everybody's thrilled to be at the final table--the last thing I wanted to do was get in a beef with the only black guy. But he was a million miles out of line, and at one point I said, "You're disrespecting the game."
So was that Good Jim or Bad Jim?
That's a good question. I think it was Good Jim.
What gets you more excited--the idea of playing three hours with Doyle Brunson or playing three hours with the Olsen twins?
Ah, well, Doyle. That's not a close call. The Olsen twins are creepy.
Well, you know, I was trying to come up with some beautiful woman; I almost said Morgan Fairchild, but I liked the twins concept. But maybe not. You're what, 47 years old?
So 53. They're, like, 12. OK, yeah, I guess that is a bit creepy.
Yeah, that's part of it. Plus they're a little bit underfed.
OK, fair enough, fair enough. Seemed very close to being a great question.
Yeah, I would just retool it and say Laura Prepon [from That '70s Show] or some of the other babes. Liz Phair, maybe.
When I said playing, I meant it in multiple senses of the word.
[Laughter] Uh, well, I would take Doyle Brunson over the Olsen twins under any circumstances.
[Laughter] Yeah, me, too.
How 'bout a tip? Got a quick tip for your up-and-coming, more-serious-than-casual-but-in-no-way-professional low-stakes player [like, say, me]?
One word: fold.
The Benefactor...of Pure Comedy
Mark Cuban has gone to great pains to distance his new ABC show The Benefactor from Donald Trump's The Apprentice, telling anyone who will listen, and plenty of people who won't, that it is in no way a rip-off of The Donald's NBC hit. Unfortunately for Cuban and anyone who watched The Benefactor's September 13 premiere, he's right. It is not an Apprentice copycat. If only.
For one thing, The Apprentice is a fascinating show with the basic building blocks of an entertaining reality series: characters to root for and against and a setup that allows viewers to do so. For another, Trump is shrewd enough to realize that a little bit of his hyperbolic, self-centered shtick goes a long way. So he stays out of the way for the most part, appearing mainly at the beginning and end of each episode, letting everyone else do the heavy lifting and then taking the credit.
On the other hand, after one episode, The Benefactor has plenty of villains but no real heroes. I mean, there's no plausible reason to root for people like...
Dominic: This actor/waiter from Las Vegas brings one thing to the table: his shiny, spiky, gel-filled hair. Early on, he actually claims that people come up to him and ask, "Dude, how do you do your hair like that?" A better question would be "Why?" To paraphrase The Music Man: "Oh, we've got trouble/Right here in Dallas, Texas/With a capital T/And that rhymes with D/And that stands for 'douche bag.'" Or "Dominic."
Femia: Already has impressed everyone with her modesty: "I'm the total package--I'm smart, I'm pretty, I'm athletic." Why do reality casting directors look for only crazy, bitchy black women?
Tiffaney: The National Watermelon Queen talks about only two things: watermelon and God. Why give her the million bucks? It would be like bankrolling Bubba from Forrest Gump.
Shawn: Easily the biggest beeyatch out of everyone. Not just on the show. Possibly the whole of North America as well. I feel confident that she would kick her way through a wall of babies while wearing steel-toed boots if she suspected there were a few Ben Franklins on the other side. And she teaches second grade. Good. God.
But the contestants are almost irrelevant, because the only person Cuban cares about is Cuban. Unlike Trump, he's in virtually every scene. I still can't figure out why. The last time I saw someone that stiff on camera, I had been forced to watch Ronald Reagan's funeral because nothing else was on TV. Even in death, Reagan had more charisma.
Since the game doesn't make any sense--in the first episode, Rich was eliminated because he allegedly called the show "stupid" (and no kidding), Laurel was axed because she couldn't muster the nerve to play air guitar and Grayson was sent home after losing a game of...Jenga--The Benefactor relies on Cuban, who, for the bulk of the show, is wearing a gold chain that wouldn't fit a 10-year-old. Most of the time, he comes off like a bullying jackass, so far up his own backside that he's returned to an upright position.
Consider this: At one point, Cuban criticizes one of the contestants, William, a histologist who, with his lack of personality, boundless optimism and terrible dancing, could very well be Cubes' brother. Cuban says re: William, "There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance and annoyance." You know what? Cuban just makes this too easy sometimes. He might as well have been reading from his own biography.
Not to mention the fact that Cuban can't carry on a conversation without saying one of the following three phrases: "one...million...dollars," "this is gonna be fun!" and "expect the unexpected." Here's another thing to expect: There will not be a second season of The Benefactor. That's my American dream, anyway. --Zac Crain